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nhl dfs strategyNHL DFS Strategy: How To Play

With the NHL season underway, we’re gearing up for the most overlooked and underrated sport in DFS. Whether you’re a hockey fan that has never been exposed to the daily fantasy side of things, or a DFS player looking to break into a new game (we’d say the easiest game for casual players to be profitable), you’ve come to the right place for NHL DFS strategy. Don’t worry, even if you haven’t kept up with the analytics renaissance in hockey over the last few years, you’re not far behind for DFS purposes. Even if you don’t know ANY hockey statistic outside of Points, Goals and Assists, you’ll still be able to equip yourself with everything you need to know to be an effective NHL DFS player.

If you’re subscribed to the Occupy Model, we do a lot of the grunt work for you and spit out quick key performance indicators daily. However, there’s nothing wrong with learning beyond the DFS intricacies if you’re looking for a deeper understanding. We personally recommend Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, an insightful read to fans of all interest levels. With that said, you’re not a real NHL GM looking to construct the most effective 23-man roster for opening night. You’re just here to prosper in NHL DFS, and we’re here to get you off on the right foot.

The Rules

Before you can get your lineups in order and figure out which contests to play, you have to familiarize yourself with the basics of roster construction and scoring. NHL teams are constructed of Centers, Wingers, Defensemen, and Goalies -- your DFS lineups are no different. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of roster construction between FanDuel and DraftKings:

FanDuel DraftKings
Center Center
Center Center
Winger Winger
Winger Winger
Winger Winger
Winger Defensemen
Defensemen Defensemen
Defensemen Utility
Goaltender Goaltender
$55,000 $50,000

The only two notable differences are the salary cap ($55,000 on FanDuel versus $50,000 on DraftKings) and the amount of Wingers. On FanDuel you need four Wingers, while on DraftKings you need three Wingers plus a Utility (Center, Winger or Defensemen).

The real differences lay in the scoring breakdown between the two sites. Let’s start with the skaters:

FanDuel Skaters DraftKings
12 points Goal 3 points
8 points Assist 2 points
1.6 points Shot on Goal 0.5 points
1.6 points Blocked Shot 0.5 points
0.5 points Power Play Goal Bonus 0 points
0.5 points Power Play Assist Bonus 0 points
2 points Short Handed Goal Bonus 1 point
2 points Short Handed Assist Bonus 1 point
0 points Hat Trick Bonus 1.5 points
0 points Shootout Goal 0.2 points

The most obvious distinction is the volume of points. FanDuel lineups score more points than DraftKings in every shared category. This doesn’t mean anything to us without relativity, so let’s go through the weighted significance of each category.

Goals are obviously the most significant means of scoring fantasy points on both sites. Although they are 12 points on FD and 3 points on DK, they are both weighted the exact same compared to assists. Assists carry two-thirds the weight of Goals on both sites. Only one player can get a goal, but up to two players can get an assist. If a player scores off a rebound (as long as the goaltender doesn’t possess the puck), the initial shooter can get both an assist and a shot on goal. Shots on goal and blocked shots are both weighted equal to one another on each site, but they are weighted slightly more (compared to goals and assists) on DraftKings. This isn’t overly significant, but worth noting.

DraftKings does not reward a bonus for power play goals, while FanDuel sprinkles you a measly 0.5 points (rightfully so) in addition to your 12 points. Power plays are generally the easiest time for a skater to score -- teams usually score between 15-30% of their total goals in a season on the power play. For that reason, you’ll want to constantly target players that get time on the first or second power play units.

The bonuses for shorthanded goals and assists are clearly more significant than power play points because they are far rarer of an occurrence. Unlike the power play, you don’t want to go out of your way to target penalty killers. Usually, the best exposure you’ll get there will be, coincidentally, most likely a Center or a Defensemen. Either way, shorthanded points are nearly impossible to predict -- last year, only 2.76% of all goals came from teams while shorthanded. It’s best to avoid getting caught up in that noise.

FanDuel doesn’t reward any bonus points for a Hat Trick, whereas DraftKings does reward a player an extra 1.5 points. These bonus points in general are just that -- a bonus. Don’t go chasing these rare occurrences. It’s like aiming to predict a Grand Slam in MLB or a Kick Return for a TD in NFL. Lastly, DraftKings also gives a slight bonus for a Shootout Goal. Once again, more noise. The common theme here is that DraftKings prefers to inject these random bonuses to add an extra layer of interest for players, while FanDuel keeps it much simpler.

Now that we’ve looked into the breakdown for Skater scoring, let’s take a look at the Goaltender scoring:

FanDuel Goalies DraftKings
12 points Win 3 points
0.8 points Save 0.2 points
-4 points Goal Against -1 point
8 points Shutout Bonus 2 points

The first noticeable thing is that Wins are just as valuable as Goals for both sites respectively. Wins are generally easier to project than a Goal, considering the volatility of scoring in hockey. For those of you that have played MLB DFS, the most obvious comparison is Pitching. Goaltenders are the backbone of your lineup -- finding a winning goaltender is very key to getting your lineup off to a great start. Our Occupy Model has metrics that project the shots and expected saves that a goalie will face, but it takes 15 saves on both sites to equal a win. That’s before factoring in Goals Against, which are far more significant. Of course, the best case is your goalie gets a win, makes a lot of saves, and allows close to zero goals (a shutout bonus is always nice). You’ll find yourself paying up for Goaltenders more times than not in lower risk contests (50/50s, H2Hs, Double Ups), but finding value is crucial in order to have success in higher risk games (Leagues, Multipliers, GPPs).

The Process

The awesome part about NHL DFS is you can get your share of action and be successful without spending ridiculous amounts of time conducting daily research. The NHL’s yearly calendar is very similar to the NBA -- teams play 82 games, a few times a week, with most games starting in the evening time. However, the daily process for both sports in DFS couldn’t be more different. NBA DFS isn’t the same sort of correlation-dependent game as NHL DFS. In NHL, most lineups will be constructed of players from two, maybe three different teams, with a few other players sprinkled in between; while with the NBA, you very well may have 9 players from 9 different teams. The NBA also has frequent last-minute roster changes that are announced in the final 30 minutes before lineups lock, but that is far less of an issue in the NHL. Usually, you’ll have a great idea of which players are playing on what lines after the morning skate (before lunch time on the east coast).

NHL slates constantly vary in size. Some days there will be as few as two or three games, while other nights there will be a full slate of action. This has a significant impact on the bankroll allocation for the slate. As we discuss in the Ultimate Guide, you never want to play more than 5% of your bankroll on a given day. We’ll be giving daily bankroll and contest selection recommendations with our Daily Plug, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t had a chance yet.

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The process starts with identifying the projected lines for the night, as well as the Vegas betting odds. Our Occupy Model will update these daily, as well as a few other key performance indicators leading into the night’s slate. Vegas odds will tell us a lot about the types of contests we’ll be playing for the night. The Money Line gives us a good idea of the chalk plays (most popular) for the night, especially in net. It’s always important to start your preparation at the team level. Instead of trying to guess which players will score goals, try and focus on which teams are in the best position to score goals.

A general rule of thumb when building your lineup (although if you don’t do it this way, it’s not some unforgivable sin) is that you start with the goaltender. Identify all the teams in the best position to win that night and make sure to roster their goalies. After that, you want to begin identifying the lines/stacks where you want exposure for that night. Before you enter contests, you want to have a good idea of how your lineups will look and how much of your bankroll you’ll be allocating. Most people make the mistake of just joining random contests, then making lineups. Don’t mix that order of operations up! 

By seeing which of your players are projected to be highly owned and how much upside your lineup possesses, you'll know which types of contests to enter -- more on this decision-making can be found in the Ultimate Guide.

In summary: it starts with identifying the lineups, goaltenders and Vegas odds (which will tell you about chalk plays and which contests to play) after morning skate. Then, you identify all the players and goaltenders you’ll be targeting. Now you can start creating your lineup(s). FINALLY, you join contests (but leave room to join more, in case there is overlay before lineups lock). 

The Strategy

The root of all strategies in NHL DFS revolves around stacking. Since hockey is such a correlation-dependent game (most positive outcomes for players involve positive outcomes for other players they’re playing with), you’ll want to roster skaters with their linemates. NHL teams usually roll out four lines of three forwards (one center and two wingers) and three pairings of two defensemen. The 1st and 2nd line is where you will want to construct 90% of your lineups. The 3rd line can provide cheap value or potentially a player that’s bumped up on a power play unit. You can pretty much ignore the 4th line.

The highest correlation is between the 1st line Center and the 1st line Wingers. Every lineup should have stacks with 1st line Centers and at least one Winger on their line. There is slightly less correlation between two Wingers than there is between a Center and a Winger, but it’s still a great way to get exposure, especially if you can’t roster an expensive Center.

The best stacks also play on the same power play units. This creates an extra opportunity for the optimal outcome (assists plus a goal). The more players/stacks that you roster with power play exposure, the better. Look for value when players get shifted around, sometimes you’ll have a cheap player who’s playing with highly priced players. That’s a great way to get exposure to those highly-owned stacks without paying top dollar.

Defensemen are unique. There are a few top tier/elite defensemen that cost a premium. Guys like Brett Burns (who led the league in shots on goals in 2016) will frequently be high owned because of their consistency -- he can provide a good amount of points without necessarily scoring or getting an assist. Most teams have one defensive pairing that will get more than 20 minutes of ice time that night. You’ll want to make sure your defensemen get a lot of ice time, and preferably some power play time. You’ll find it extremely difficult to pay up for two pricey defensemen, so you need to find cheap guys that can hit value by either blocking shots, or being on a team that scores a few goals that night and hopefully cashing in on an assist.

One obvious correlation strategy involves stacking a Goalie with skaters from the same team, as this is a great way to increase your upside. A goalie can’t record a win unless he gets goal support from his team. As we stated earlier, you’ll generally make lineups that consist of 2-3 different teams, with occasional players sprinkled in to stay under the salary cap.

Be mindful of not just matchups, but also the team’s schedules. Things such as extensive road trips and back to back games are just as important to note as the weaknesses in the opponents.

Remember, start at the team level then go from there. Write down the teams and goaltenders you want to get exposure to that night. Based off the slate and Vegas odds, find out how much bankroll you should allocate and which contests you should enter. NHL DFS has FREQUENT overlay, especially in Satellites, so don’t go crazy entering contests hours before lineup lock. Give yourself some space to enter contests at the last second without going over your bankroll allocation for the slate. It’s a long season -- the regular season provides for ample opportunity to be profitable, so don’t go all-in the first few weeks (let the Occupy Model accrue more data!).

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Stacking is an art form. There are so many ways to create profitable stacks, so don’t be too close-minded. Here are a few ideas, and you’ll often see us recommend these pairings in the Daily Plug:

1C-1W
1C-1W-1D
1C-1W-1G
1C-1W-1W-1D
1C-1D-G
1W-1W
1W-1W-1D
1W-1W-1D-G

This is just scratching the surface. It’s a constant battle of seeking correlation to maximize upside while finding value to save salary space on your roster.

NHL DFS strategy can get very interesting, but it doesn’t take a crazy amount of knowledge to start exercising profitable strategies. A few final pointers to recap regarding stacking strategies:

  • The Power play is pivotal. Make sure to roster as many skaters with power play exposure as possible
  • 1st line Centers and 1st line Wingers have the highest level of fantasy scoring correlation
  • If two players don’t play on the same even strength line, their outcomes won’t be correlated often. It’s best to only roster players on the same lines
  • Rostering a Goaltender on a team of skaters you have exposure to is another positive correlation strategy
  • The 1C-1D stack is usually reserved for a top-notch defenseman that gets power play time with that first center
  • You want to ignore the 4th line altogether, unless there is a value play on the power play who will play with top notch players on the man advantage
  • The 2nd and 3rd line C-W stack is a great way to get correlation while differentiating yourself from other people’s lineups. Be mindful of the ice time some teams 3rd lines get. You may be able to find incredible value there with a 3rd liner who’s on the 1st unit Power play

The beauty of NHL DFS is it’s still a very new game. The daily process isn’t stressful, while the lineup construction and correlation is extremely fluid. There are plenty of chances to find overlay in contests and the framework is laid for it to become your most profitable DFS sport.

Be sure to sign up for our Daily Plug to get the scoop on not just the best skaters, goalies and stacks of the day, but most importantly which contests to play, how to allocate your bankroll, and what bigger picture strategy you should incorporate with your lineups! Access our Occupy Model and you'll see how every player ranks at his position PLUS a Stack Dashboard that shows the top lines and power play units to target each slate. 

It's a long season. Let’s enjoy it and make some money!